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Seeing “the code”

August 5, 2011

@positiveneuro’s message to @LH:

I had a transcendent experience watching ants the other day that I doubt I will be able to communicate well. But I was watching ants file back and forth on the sidewalk, and–seriously–it was like I saw everything going on in front of me as a stream of computations running on biological hardware. It was wild. I reached down and smooshed one of them and left the body there to see what the other ones would do, and–again–saw the responses to the dead body as more computations…the probing, withdrawing, renegotiating of path. It made me want to understand so badly the principles of computation and the biological hardware that life uses.

@LH’s reply to @positiveneuro:

So cool — you just saw The Code… I think of these as Neo moments…

Matter itself is a computational substrate, running an enormous physical program.  The reason the Matrix appeals to so many people is that it is truth — we are running inside an enormous computer, it just turns out that that computer computes with molecules, not with transistors. At many layers above the physical layer, yes, biology is running its own very complicated program.  I really wish I understood even just one tiny part of that program: how development unfolds to create a physical body. Seriously, where is that program even stored in the DNA, or how is it represented?  And behavior is so many levels of complexity above even that level that I don’t think we’ll understand it for a hundred years…

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One Comment
  1. I once had a similar experience. I was sitting on my porch and noticed a large group of ants carrying food (breadcrumbs I probably spoiled) from one end of the wooden beam to the other. From one of my AI classes I knew how every works with the pheromones, but it still intrigued my from a path-finding point of view how they did it. So I decided to spray the beam at several points with different odor to see how they responded (like perfume, deodorant, sun protection). It was really amazing to see them stop at those points because they noticed that something was different and finding ways around it or just deciding to walk over it. Watching this also made me wonder how this behavior works in their tiny, tiny brains.

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